The Reckoningby Published 23 Oct 2018
John Grisham returns to Clanton, Mississippi, to tell the story of an unthinkable murder, the bizarre trial that follows it, and its profound and lasting effect on the people of Ford County.
Pete Banning was Clanton's favorite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbor, and a faithful member of the Methodist church. Then one cool October morning in 1946. he rose early, drove into town, walked into the Church, and calmly shot and killed the Reverend Dexter Bell. As if the murder wasn't shocking enough, it was even more baffling that Pete's only statement about it—to the sheriff, to his defense attorney, to the judge, to his family and friends, and to the people of Clanton—was "I have nothing to say." And so the murder of the esteemed Reverend Bell became the most mysterious and unforgettable crime Ford County had ever known.
The Reckoning Reviews
The latest novel by John Grisham, The Reckoning (release date October 23), is a sprawling and enthralling read set in the Ford County of A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, etc. By setting this story of murder and Gothic-esque family drama in the county most familiar to longtime Grisham readers, The Reckoning mixes the pleasures of familiarity with the new, experimental territory upon which the writer embarks. If anything, this novel is certainly not Grisham on auto-pilot.
This will likely be the most divisive Grisham release in some time, if ever. The author playfully mixes up and challenges the courtroom drama standard he set, choosing to tell the story in an almost non-linear fashion. At the heart of this novel is the question: What makes a beloved war hero and successful small-town sharecropper murder his pastor in cold blood? The consequences set in motion by the murder — which happens in the first chapter, and is mentioned in the synopsis — are gritty and cold and real. Grisham’s focus is not so much the legal system (though it does play a part), but the dissolving of two American families.
This reader respects Grisham for shaking things up and penning what could be the darkest, and most literary, novel of his career. I certainly did not see it coming. If 2017’s The Rooster Bar was a slick crowd pleaser, The Reckoning is a raw challenge . . . one of which William Faulkner, perhaps, would be a fan.
Thanks to Doubleday Books for the free hardcover copy of this book, which was given in exchange for an honest review.
This did not work for me. It started out pretty interesting but died a quick death. It was just too long, dull, and depressing. The war flashbacks bored me to tears and I didn't understand why they were even included in the story. Don't go into this expecting some big twist at the end. Or even a big eye opening moment. It never comes. I didn't finish this book thinking "I totally understand why he killed that man." Which was very frustrating.
This novel was incredible! This is one of my favorite John Grisham’s novels since A Time to Kill. It was a powerful story with so much mystery right up to the end. I could not right for the secrets to be revealed, and they were not exactly what readers would predict. I seriously enjoyed this book to the point of losing sleep over it. I would have read in one day if my schedule would have permitted. It was that good!
My quick and simple overall: mystery and an incredible story with intriguing characters. A really great standalone novel!
Far From One of Grisham's Best: I typically enjoy anything by Grisham and rate them in the 4 star range most always. The Reckoning fell well short of what I would expect from Grisham. Most disappointing was that at about 30% of the book reads like an historical fiction account of World War II battles and not something I expected from a read of the book jacket - or a typical Grisham novel. While there is legal challenge and courtroom storyline- this part of the story had little drama, no surprises and an ending to the legal challenge that was obvious from the beginning. Was hoping for a plot twist somewhere to redeem the book, but it never came. This seems like a story that Grisham just put out to meet a publisher's deadline as readers like myself expect more. A few nagging elements also including the fact that the son and daughter in the story refer throughout to their father and mother by first name- Pete and Liza- which seemed odd and out of place with the time and setting for this story. Even if you are diehard Grisham fan, believe you can pass on this one without feeling you have missed anything.
The 1940's was a very dark time in our world, so why do authors keep going back to it? I believe it's because in darkness there are stories that need to be told, and that it's not a morbid fixation or nostalgia but rather an attempt to share with readers the voices and tales left behind. John Grisham does this perfectly by giving us a vivid and realistic portrait of the Jim Crow south, and one man haunted by the ghosts of his past. We often like to mask the harsh realities of war, terrorism and genocide, hiding it beneath patriotism and gung-ho enthusiasm. In the age of the internet we no longer bother to hide such things, but in the 1940's Pete Banning's stories as a POW and the things he went through during the Bataan death March in the Philippines are slowly revealed during a lengthy and harrowing trial.
It wouldn't be a John Grisham novel without a court case and a lawyer, but in The Reckoning, he makes it clear that this is Pete's story. Readers learn of a man's life and the toll it takes on a person when their secrets are hidden away, whether it's the trauma of war or the shame and stigma of a mentally ill spouse back in the days when mental illness was a thing still stuffed away in gothic asylums so we didn't have to look at it in a gentile, polite society. Why though would Pete choose to shoot his pastor of all people? The mystery behind that is even more interesting.
This tragic and deep story isn't your typical legal thriller, nor is it just another copycat of To Kill A Mockingbird. In many ways it reminded me of some episodes in my favourite TV series, the CBS drama Cold Case, in the way it explores war, mental health and frustration in earlier eras. Grisham sets the scene flawlessly and makes the story genuinely feel like a 1940's tale, but not in a way that's too sentimental or rose-coloured.